Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Pinning time down

Every week at Welsh class we spend a few minutes talking about what we have been doing in the previous week. It's amazing how often I struggle to remember and yet my life is full and rewarding and happy.  Maybe it is the famous line about "happiness writes white", attributed to the French novelist Henry de Montherland, suggesting that it is easier to write about pain, suffering, conflict and struggle.  A contented life contains thousands of happy repetitions.  "These weeks keep coming round," my father in law would say happily in his nineties when he lived out his last years with us.  He was one of the happiest men I know.  Indeed he had developed a barrier against unhappiness so strong that it sometimes seemed he lived in an impermeable rainbow hued bubble.  Sometimes it drove me nuts but I would freely admit that enjoying your weekly round is a good recipe for a happy life.

So here are the highlights of the last couple of weeks, pinned down briefly on the page so you can see where time goes.








I made chutney.  I have experimented with all sorts of recipes and this is my best, loosely based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's "Glutney" recipe.  It works because it is endlessly flexible and adaptable to whatever you have to hand.

You need two kilos of the fruit or vegetables you are going to chutney, ideally two different kinds.  I used courgettes and tomatoes for this chutney but you can use apples, plums, marrows, squash, whatever you have most of.  If you live in the country you not only have the gluts thrown up by your own garden to contend with but the kindness of neighbours and friends either directly passing their surplus produce around the village or surreptitiously leaving bags full of produce on your doorstep.

You also need 500g of onions, peeled and chopped.  Plums should be stoned and chopped, apples peeled and chopped.  Courgettes and tomatoes can just be chopped.  It takes ages to do it by hand but it is pleasantly meditative if you are in the right mood with something interesting to listen to on the radio.  It takes no time to do it in a food processor but I hate the noise.  Chop everything and put it in a big preserving pan.

Add 500grams of soft brown sugar, 500grams of sultanas and 750mils of cider vinegar made up to a litre with cold water.  Add about a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of salt.

The most important element of a chutney in terms of its final flavour is the spice bag.  I tie mine into a piece of muslin but any fine material will do.  Even the toe of a clean pair of tights works fine!  Into this put a chopped piece of root ginger, about three centimetres long, ten or so cloves, ten or so black peppercorns, a spoonful of coriander seeds, a spoonful of mustard seeds and a couple of bay leaves.

Bring it slowly to the boil, stirring to melt all the sugar and then let it simmer until the chutney is so thick that a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a distinct trail.  This takes ages.  I have seen all sorts of chutney recipes, some suggesting that the mixture will be ready in forty minutes or so.  I have never made good chutney in less than four hours so don't start it unless you have plenty of time!  If you do have time it is a lovely activity for a rainy day.  The kitchen smells warm and vinegary and there is lots of time to potter about doing other things as the chutney slowly cooks down. 

When it is thick and ready, fish out the spice bag and put the chutney into heated jars.  I sterilise mine by leaving them in a low oven for ten minutes or so.  This makes about ten jars.


What else have we done?

We went to Prague where we drank fabulous Czech beer


and visited one of the most extraordinary places I have ever seen: the ossuary at Sedlec, about an hour's journey from Prague.  This is a church within the monastery at Sedlec which contains the bones of forty thousand people, carefully arranged by a nineteenth century monk.


 
It sounds macabre and I see from my pictures that it looks macabre.  It is indeed strange, unsettling, disturbing and yet somehow peaceful and even beautiful.  There are simply so many bones that eventually your mind begins to see shapes rather than bodies.  There is also a profound sense that the place has been made with reverence and respect and, like many places which have been places of prayer for generations, there is an atmosphere of calm and peace.  I still can't pin down exactly how it made me feel and what it made it made me think but it was truly an extraordinary experience.


We returned to Prague and had another beer.  It seemed like the best thing to do.  Life is short.

25 comments:

  1. Where did the bones come from? Did the people attend that church? Is it like an indoor graveyard? I can't get my head around it. And I love your father-in-law's attitude. Not enough of that around.

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    1. The area had become over centuries a place where people wanted to be buried because there was supposed to be some soil brought back from Golgotha in the holy land. There had also been huge slaughter as a result of religious wars between Catholic and Protestant. When the monastery was extended the chapel was offered as a site for the final burial of bodies which were being exhumed and one monk was tasked with laying out the bones.

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  2. Oh, I enjoyed that read. It reminded me to make chutney. You've inspired me to try apple, damson and red onion. I heard a piece on Ossaries (plural? Not sure) on Radio 4 a while back. Very interesting. X

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    1. I love chutney making! in lots of ways I prefer it to making jam. at least you lose that overwhelming focus on whether or not you have got to setting point!

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  3. I love chutney and on occasion, have made some. Your's sounds delicious.

    Having a beer after visiting the bones was a good idea.

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    1. having the beer was definitely a good response! a strange response perhaps but sometimes all you can do is be happy to be here

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  4. Elizabeth, what an usual duo of activities you've shared with us. Making delicious chutney from autumn harvesting and ... visiting Prague. I am imagining that I am in your Welsh class and am hearing your descriptions of both.

    Like you, I also find kitchen chopping rather relaxing. I made my first autumn soup a few days ago, and was glad to devote a certain amount of time to the process. (Knitting between visits to to the soup pot to give the simmering veg a stir.)

    I am now looking forward to also being able to catch up with you over on Instagram. My smart phone initiation is still in its early stages. xo

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    1. I love your mix of soup making and knitting! I do that too. the two things both need time.

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  5. Let's keep those thousands of happy repetitions coming! :-)

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    1. oh yes. lovely phrase: thousands of happy repetitions!

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  6. I had to smile at the juxtaposition of visiting an ossuary, drinking beer in Prague and making chutney. Life is glorious in its variety.
    I try to encapsulate my daily life in a "happiness bubble" too, I'm not always successful, but it can be a useful approach to coping with some of the bumps along the road.

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    1. indeed, life is glorious and complicated and a happiness bubble is a help, as long as it doesn't stop you seeing too much of the complexity.

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  7. I've been making Chutney too! Lots of Spiced Apple Chutney. But I've not been to Prague! However would love to, I've heard such good things about the city. Always love reading your posts by the way! Jane x

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    1. thank you Jane. I'm glad to hear that. Prague is definitely a good place to visit!

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  8. O, tantalising....that thing where just what you thought/felt is elusive.I find that such a thing will have me coming back and coming back until I manage to nail it. Taking about it sometimes does the trick!

    As for that daily round, I have realised that every time we go away I try to reproduce being at home. I need holidays, but I have no doubt at all about how much I relish the day to day here.

    See you soon! Xxxxxx

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    1. I know what you mean about coming back and back to those things which need to be made sense of. oddly I sometimes find that what works and goes rather against the grain is to have a time of deliberately leaving it to brew. sometimes I sense slowly that something has clarified. often I just stay confused.

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  9. Well, Elizabeth, that beats my round! Bones and beer - an unlikely combination but I can see that it worked.

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    1. It certainly worked to do it Honora, I wasn't sure whether it would not be odd in the extreme to read it!

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  10. The weeks do indeed keep coming round and it already feels a long time since we met up on Tuesday - it was lovely to catch up with you, if briefly x

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    1. It was great to see you too and to catch up with everyone. Must do that more often!

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  11. All life is here. On cheeriness - I hope I can be as happy in old age as your father-in-law and my great friend Marian who died aged 91 and was always cheery and uncomplaining despite her crippling rheumatoid arthritis. It was a pleasure to visit her and she had many friends. Another elderly neighbour was full of misery and much harder to be with. No one ever came near her.

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    1. You are entirely right about cheeriness. My father in law always had a smile and made others smile and loved people. I have known others who lived under a little cloud of personal gloom, all by themselves.

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  12. I have just made James Martin's 'Green Tomato Chutney'; very simple and very good. I shall be making more, I have a glut of green tomatoes, as do most people at this time of year.

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    1. Oddly most of ours have ripened this year! It is good to see you here Cro. Thanks for commenting!

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